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It’s Full Speed Ahead For Marijuana Legalization In California Next Year


vote for california marijuana initiativesBy Phillip Smith

On June 14, more than 200 people gathered at the Sebastopol Grange for a fundraiser and organizing meeting of  local pot growers, the Sonoma County Growers Association. They were being mentored by their northern neighbors from Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, the Emerald Growers Association, which already has lobbyists in Sacramento and is in the middle of the effort to legalize weed in California next year. The Emerald Triangle is the largest marijuana growing area in the country’s largest marijuana producing state.

Two days later, more than a hundred people met in a conference room at the Oakland Marriot City Center to plot the intricacies of producing a statewide marijuana legalization initiative. For several hours, attendees—dispensary operators and employees, small growers, not-so-small growers, patients, consumers, interested citizens, even a nun—offered their input on a rapid-fire but seemingly endless array of issues related to legalization and how it should occur:

Who can grow it? How much? Where? Who can grow it commercially? Should there be tiered licensing to ensure small operators have a chance? Who can sell it? Can cities and counties opt out? Who should regulate it? How should it be taxed and how much? Where should the revenues go? Should there be amnesties or expungements of records? Should employees be protected from being fired for smoking on their own time? Should there be protections from child welfare services or family courts? Does impaired driving need to be addressed? What about medical marijuana? Should existing businesses get a priority?

The complexities of knitting together a legalization initiative that will satisfy the community’s already well-developed interest groups become apparent. But the process is nearing its end, and, it is hoped, a repeat of the movement infighting that accompanied 2010’s failed Prop 19 effort can be avoided.

The Bay area events are nothing unusual in California this year. Pot politics is in the air. There is a lot at stake for the existing medical marijuana system as the legislature tries again to agree on a statewide regulation scheme, but beyond that, there’s the whole issue of outright legalization, and that’s going to come to a head in the months leading up to November 2016.

That’s because Californians are extremely likely to have a chance to vote directly to approve legalization then and quite likely to do so. Polls this year are coming in with support for legalization above 50%, although not enough above for anyone to think it’s going to be a slam dunk. Four legalization initiatives are already at the state attorney general’s office awaiting circulating titles and summaries, while a fifth, and the one most likely to actually qualify for the ballot, is set to drop sometime this summer.

Four states and the District of Columbia have already beaten California in the race to Promised Land of legal weed (much to the chagrin of California activists), but if and when the state goes green, that could be the death knell for pot prohibition. In one fell swoop, 15% of the entire country will have legalized it–and that’s not even counting other states also likely to legalize it the same day, including Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. When the nation’s most populous state does something, the rest of us take notice.

Enforcing marijuana prohibition constitutes about half of all the resources–state, local, and federal–devoted to the war on drugs. When a state as large as California rejects pot prohibition, that begins to call into queston the entire drug war model, and the resources devoted to it. Legalizing in California will have ramification far beyond the state’s borders.

The initiative everyone is waiting on is from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the group that organized the Oakland meeting—and 13 others just like it among stakeholders in every corner of the state. The coalition, also known by its web address, ReformCA, is working with a number of state and national organizations to get a broadly-backed legalization initiative on the ballot.

ReformCA’s state supporters include California NORML, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Emerald Growers Association, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, Oaksterdam University, and the state chapter of the NAACP. Its national allies include such deep-pocketed groups as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project, as well as Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

“We’re definitely working in coalition with a lot of organizations, including criminal justice and public health organizations,” said Amanda Reiman, DPA’s manager for marijuana law and policy. “They agree that legalization is the right step; that we need to regulate it. There seems to be a fair amount of unity there.”

The ReformCA public forums were a deliberate way to “hear from the marijuana base,” said Reiman. “They have ideas, and those come back to the coalition, but that is only a small piece of the puzzle. We’ve also been meeting with people who don’t come at it from a consumer or industry perspective—medical, law enforcement, public health. They have an interest in this, too; we all have a vested interest in a sound regulatory structure.”

North Bay cannabis defense attorney Omar Figueroa has a hand in a couple of other initiatives that have already been filed, the California Craft Cannabis Initiative and the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Revenue Act of 2016. Based in Sonoma County, just south of the Emerald Triangle, he’s attuned to the interests of small growers, and both initiatives reflect that.

Both have provisions for marijuana cultivation licensing schemes that would leave room for the area’s traditionally family-sized operations, designated “craft growers” in one and “artisan cultivators” in the other. Small-scale operations would be able to buy cultivation license for far less than operations large enough to be designated “commercial.”

Whether the initiative campaigns end up folding themselves into the ReformCA campaign remains to be seen.

“The craft cannabis initiative is there for discussion purposes; I’m releasing the meme into the wild,” said Figueroa. “But the other one actually has some funding behind it. It’ll probably end up unifying with what ReformCA comes up with—if it’s palatable.”

Figueroa has his druthers and he has his bottom line.

“I’d prefer that medical marijuana be untaxed or less taxed, and I’d prefer that regulation be done by a transparent elected body like a cannabis commission,” he said. “And it would be nice if existing growers got priority licensing or some sort of head start, but at a minimum would be recognizing appellations. California has world famous cannabis appellations. No one’s ever heard of Denver or Boulder bud; it doesn’t have that branding that Humboldt or Mendocino does.

But in the end, he’s looking for an initiative that is “create no new crimes and legalizes personal cultivation.”

ReformCA and the other initiative proponents aren’t even the only game in town when it comes to marijuana policy reform. Their efforts are going on parallel to the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Cannabis Policy, led by pro-legalization Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and the ACLU of Northern California, which will issue a much-anticipated report on July 7.

While not explicitly pro-legalization itself, the commission was formed out of the expectation that legalization is coming and in an effort to and is identifying policy issues and solutions related to dealing with it. Its membership consists of policymakers, public health experts, and academics, and its report will include input from important groups not necessarily friendly to change, such as the California Police Chiefs Association.

Waiting for the commission report is one of two things slowing the completion of the ReformCA initiative, sound Dale Gieringer, longtime head of Cal NORML, as well as a spokesman for the coalition.

“The biggest one is whether the legislature will implement a comprehensive medical marijuana regulation system this year or not, and what it would look like,” he said. “But it looks like they will pass Assembly Bill 266, which is basically a multi-agency approach. I think we now have a good idea of where the legislature is headed and a solution to the problem of regulation.”

The other thing is the Blue Ribbon Commission report.

“I suspect we’ll see a draft shortly thereafter, but I can’t guarantee that. It may take another four to six weeks of working out,” Gieringer said. “Several drafts have been circulated, and we’re waiting for something from the Drug Policy Alliance, with the advice of a bunch of other people who’ve been consulted. But nothing has been finalized.”

The clock is ticking, but the only real hard deadline facing initiatives is, ironically enough, April 20. That’s when signatures have to be in if they want to make the 2016 ballot.

Still, the sooner the better. Initiatives need 585,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, which means they better have a minimum of 800,000 or even more to account for the inevitable disqualified signatures. It also means initiatives don’t manage to get on the ballot without a paid signature-gathering campaign, and the less time they have, the more they have to pay. Budget $1 or $2 million just to get those signatures.

“We could file as late as November or December,” said Gieringer. “It just costs more. If we were ready now or even next month, that would give us maximum time to do everything, but it looks like it’s going to be a rush.”

Funding will appear, supporters said, but they are going to need a lot. The 2010 Prop 19 initiative campaign raised and spent $5 million for advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, and that wasn’t enough. California is a huge and expensive series of media markets, and organizers are thinkng they will need to spend somewhere between $10 and $20 million to ensure victory.

The traditional deep pocketed sources of drug reform funding—the Drug Policy Alliance and its PACs, the Marijuana Policy Project and its PACs, the Peter Lewis estate—have not yet committed serious money, but they are watching with great interest.

DPA’s Reiman would say little about funding, except that “the money is out there, and we’re just going to have to see. Right now, we’re doing our due diligence.”

“I’m confident we can get the money, there are large pledges sitting on the sidelines ready to get in once signature collection starts,” Gieringer said. “And there are some promising leads, although the industry itself has been very disappointing. They’re quick to suggest things to make it more profitable, but not so quick to put up the money.”

One exception is Weedmaps, the dispensary-locater app. The Orange Count company announced in April that it had donated $1 million to a campaign committee called Californians for Sensible Reform, which will support what it thinks is the strongest legalization measure on the ballot. Weedmaps is also throwing another million bucks into a PAC of the same name that will spend it supporting weed-friendly candidates.

California is a large, complicated state. Even its marijuana movement is large and complicated, not to mention factoring in the interests of the much, much larger non-marijuana community. Whether all the moving parts can fit together in a measure that can win at the ballot box next year is an unanswered question, but Reiman sounds confident.

“Coming up with the details is where the difficulty is, and there’s always something to disagree about, but we’re coming at this with such strong support, we’ve got the Blue Ribbon Commission, that’s more academic and political weight behind this than ever before,” she said.

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Johnny Green


  1. You’ve been drinking bongwater. The cat is out of the bag now. Nothing is going to put it back in.

  2. You are all welcome to move up here to Washington State! We’ve got plenty of legal pot & money making opportunities in the pot business & a quarter of the states population is from California already!!

  3. What this means is the Liberal Party of Canada. New Democrats want to “study” the issue and the Conservative government is staunchly opposed.

  4. I totally agree about reasonable possession limits – not more than a million tons per person. Unless you are a grower. Then the number would be increased to a billion tons. That way every grower could service a thousand users. Distributors could be allowed a trillion tons

    Legalized free and profitable transfer. Just like tomatoes.

    The right to grow no more that a hundred trillion plants if you have the resources for such an effort.

    No right for the government to draw blood. Electronic impairment testing.

    A ceiling on taxes. – The same as for any other agricultural product.

    Well you get the idea. A free market.

  5. The Feds can’t make California arrest anyone. In fact legalization with no government oversight or taxes would be the best of all possible worlds.

  6. Superstorm420 on

    Yeah every little bit definitely helps. A 2016 legalization initiative in California will definitely be met with an opposition campaign, and we already know that groups like the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Narcotics Officers Association, and the League of California Cities will financially contribute to an opposition campaign. Not to mention if people like Sheldon Adelson donate to their campaign as well. Groups such as these have deep pockets and have spent lots of money in the past to fight off criminal justice reforms in California, and they’re willing to spend a lot to fight this too. That’s why the more money on our side the better, if everyone in California who supports legalization donated just 5-20 dollars, there would be a lot of money on our side to campaign for legalization next year.

  7. Superstorm420 on

    Hopefully they will, the article said that MCLR might merge with the initiative from ReformCA if its palatable. It’ll make things a lot easier if they do merge. I think that CCHI is still trying to go off on their own and gather signatures themselves. I hope they’ll come around and join ReformCA’s efforts because it’ll just make things worse if they go their own route and probably wouldn’t even get enough signatures to get on the ballot.

  8. Is it possible to volunteer to gather petition signatures? I know most signature gatherers get paid for each signature, but if we could volunteer our time, might this be a possible cost saver? Every little bit helps, right?

    (I mean above and beyond donating money)

  9. Not really. You ignore the power of public opinion supporting marijuana re-legalization. It has massively shifted, from the 20 percentiles in the early nineties, to near 60 percent now and still growing.

    That’s why the politicians – and judges – are coming around, on the local AND federal level.

    Everyone knows the jig is up.

  10. That would be our dream initiative, and we’ll likely get there someday.

    I can state the ideal policy in shorter way.

    – Since marijuana is so near harmless, the only regulation it needs is to prohibit sales/giving to children.

    In a rational world, that’s where we would be. – But we must also propose an initiative that has a good chance of passing. The only essential plank at this point is to stop all punishment of people for marijuana possession.

    Everything else we want will naturally flow from that.

  11. Herschel Sgaarsgard on

    Full steam ahead unfortunately will turn into a full stop anytime soon as Holder’s replacement sees ‘the law’ as her lodestar. Fed law still trumps state law and given her stance she has not much choice but to side against Colorado in the neighboring states v. Colorado suit. If Colorado falls based on the CSA the other states with rec.legalization would fall like dominos.
    It’s not looking like the CSA is being repealed or amended, leaving the Fed in position to pull the plug anytime.
    It’s looking the the whole legalization train could be derailed when it was finally gaining steam and making headway.

  12. I agree. I have contributed. But I will contribute more if all the players will consolidate behind one initiative.

    Multiple initiatives confuse the public, cause havoc with petition gathering, and dilute the power of the vote.

  13. This is not a Liberal / Conservative issue, even if you have divided the entire gamut of human beliefs and practices into a black/white liberal/conservative dichotomy.
    For instance, Rand Paul and Dana Rohrbacher , both of whom I consider quite conservative, are pro-legalization, while so-called “liberals” like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Maggie Hassan and Edmond “Jerry” Brown are against legalization.The most radical socialist evil “librul” in the Universe, Hillary Clinton, has remained mum on the topic of legalization while she “evolves” on the issue.

  14. I’m very fond of the observation that this is the same domino effect as prohibition 1.0 when first a couple of states, then a few more and finally the Feds’ said fuck it, repeal prohibition. Especially when the politicians smell the tax money. Pretty sure they can smell it all the way from Ottawa. Liberals want to legalize after the election Oct/2015.

  15. Also – if you want cannabis to be legal in California in 2016, you need to help fund the initiative. As distasteful as this is to some folks, the reality is that money buys votes because it gets the information out there to the voters.
    $10,000,000 will get an initiative noticed.
    $15,000,000 will get people talking about it – and maybe get it passed.
    $20,000,000 will likely result in getting the initiative passed.
    If every consumer of cannabis donated $20 to fund an initiative, it will surpass the $20,000,000 funding mark.
    Some organizations who are doing great work – and need your financial support:
    Drug Policy Alliance
    Reform CA
    Marijuana Policy Project
    Americans for Safe Access
    Law Enforcement Against prohibition (LEAP)
    Dig deep and financially support those whose cause you think best (not perfectly, but best) reflect the policy you would like to see implemented.
    $20 each can go a LONG way toward a 2016 success.
    (I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of these organizations, other than the financial contributions I have sent them over the years).

  16. Great article.

    Even if an initiative is not 100% the way supporters want it, they should vote in favor of it. As was once said, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.”

    That said, the initiative needs to focus heavily on consumer rights because they make up the bulk of the voters. Some items I would like to see in the 2016 initiative:

    1. Reasonable possession limits.

    2. Legalized free transfers from one person to another (gifting).

    3. The inalienable right to grow a certain number of plants without interference or regulations from local jurisdictions (Counties and Cities cannot ban or restrict a property owner’s or renter’s right to grow a certain number of plants for personal use).

    4. Workplace safeguards covering both employer and employee (you can be fired for showing up for work under the influence, but you cannot be fired on Monday for smoking a joint Saturday night).

    5. Medically reasonable DUI testing that do NOT test for metabolites, but rather for THC levels in the blood (as of today blood tests for THC levels are the only accurate measure – but this will change). Somewhere between 5 – 10 ug/L THC is probably a good number, based on the results of test subjects observed driving while using cannabis.

    6. A ceiling on taxes (both state and local) so that state and local authorities cannot impose taxes that effectively create or further enrich the black market.

    7. Medical cannabis should be sold tax-free to those who possess a physician recommendation.

    8. State and local authorities cannot impose rules for dispensaries that are more prohibitive than those in place for the sale of alcohol. Zoning ordinances for cannabis sales should parallel those for alcohol sales.

    9. The rules governing the consumption of cannabis cannot be more restrictive than the rules governing the consumption of alcohol. If it is legal to consume alcohol at a certain place/time then it shall be concurrently legal to consume cannabis at the same place/time.

    10. A provision that requires law enforcement to compensate those who have had cannabis confiscated but who have NOT been convicted of a cannabis-related crime as a result of that confiscation. Translation: If the cops take your cannabis but that confiscation does not result in a conviction – you get compensated (in cash) full-value street price for the cannabis.

  17. Hopefully, the growers will join reformers this time around, and help this pass. If it doesn’t, there will be a lot of Californians looking for homes in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and whatever states DO re-legalize in 2016. – Then California growers will lose a lot of customers.

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